Howard’s and my great aunt, Ann, was an Ursula doppelganger. Now, I know Ursula was based on many, including the divine Divine, but in my mind, I see Aunt Ann. Ann was our grandfather’s sister and she was, like her brother, a force of nature. Indeed, she was a force of nature not unlike a hurricane or tornado or, come to think of it, a tsunami.
Like our grandfather, Ann was born in a place called Grodno in Poland. Ann moved to Baltimore first and our grandfather followed a few years later – both arriving in the first few years of the twentieth century. They had no love and no sentiment for the old country and I never heard it discussed.
Neither Aunt Ann nor Pop pop ever completely lost their accents. They substituted V’s for W’s with merry abandon, growling their guttural English to the end of their days.
Ann married a man who owned an automotive warehouse. He was a lousy businessman but Ann had the brains and killer instinct to survive in the man’s world of trucks and transmissions and she was soon running the business.
After the second World War, Ann hired former enlisted men to buy Jeeps through the GI Bill and resell them to her. It was illegal, but profitable. The business grew, Ann’s husband died, and she took over the business completely. Ann driving a truck all night to pick up auto parts from some shady dealer became the stuff of family legend.
Ann was the only person we knew who owned a color television and I longed for the occasional Sunday evenings at her home when we could watch, you guessed it, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color in its full glory.
Recently, I found a picture of Ann with my grandparents and her second husband (her walker, he was a kind man of undetermined sexuality who looked good in a suit and danced with Ann all night, whenever and wherever she wanted). Looking at the photo, I began hearing Ann’s voice in my head. It was a low growl, female though not feminine, kind of a cross between Harvey Fierstein and Bea Arthur.
It was a voice, indeed, not unlike that of our favorite Octopus-esque Disney villainess. Ann’s greeting to Howard and me was always the same:
“Come, darling. Give your Auntie Ann a kiss,”
Then, grabbing our hands as we kissed her powdered cheek, Aunt Ann would push a crumpled dollar bill into our palms, bestowing a life lesson best not pondered.
Could have been worse, we had no fishtails to trade and she did not ask for our voices.